Archive for May, 2012

3 Ways Military Can Use Social Media to Find a Civilian Job

Posted by Charlotte Webster

social mediaToday’s job market is incredibly competitive and most people find it difficut to know where to begin their job search. Looking for a job can be overwhelming with all of the options: newspaper classifieds, online job boards, employment agencies, referrals from friends or family, and on and on.

But there is an often over-looked avenue that is becoming more effective: social media.

With the advancement of social media, job hunting is evolving. In the early stages of your job hunt, you can use social media:

  • As part of your web persona
  • To network with others
  • To find unique job listings

Most job seekers are aware of, and possibly using, online job boards such as Monster, CareerBuilder and Indeed. But many employers have moved towards using social media to find and recruit employees.

89% of companies in the US planned to use social media for recruiting in 2011, according to Jobvite. The Jobvite Index found that 73% of social media hires came from LinkedIn, 20% from Facebook, and 7% from Twitter in the last six months. The biggest social media newcomer is Pinterest, and time will tell if it can also successfully be used by job recruiters and job seekers.

For now, let’s see how you can use each of the big three social media sites in your job search…

LinkedIn

As of March 31st, LinkIn has 161 members in more than 200 countries and territories, making it the world’s largest professional network. Job hunters should consider how much value there is in joining such a large network. LinkedIn reports that more than 2 million companies have a LinkedIn company page and that executives from all 2011 Fortune 500 companies are members. Anyone can follow a company, so job seekers can follow and then network with the people in the position of hiring.

Facebook

The now publicly-owned Facebook reportedly has 901 million monthly active users, 300 photos uploaded each day and 125 billion friendships. With such a large user base, it makes perfect sense for businesses to post jobs on their company pages and screen candidates based on their profiles. There are some controversial practices, such as some employers asking for an individual’s Facebook password to check their private connections and activities, but for the most part, employers consider Facebook to be an invaluable tool in their recruitment process by getting information out to the most people possible.

Twitter

Most people have heard about Twitter, even if they still don’t understand it or how it can be a useful social medium. One simple way to make it work for you is to follow companies in which you have an interest. Although tweets are short, maxed at 140 characters, employers will tweet links to job postings with a description, requirements and an actual web application form. Another useful tool on Twitter that few people know about is TwitJobSearch. It searches for and collects all jobs posted on Twitter so you can get directly to the information you really want. There is even a 22-minute webinar that shows how one job huter “hustled a job interview” in real-time using Twitter.

One word of warning when using social media to find a job is that you need to have a professional profile on each site and take down or hide information and images you wouldn’t want on open display to a potential employer. Regardless of which traditional methods you use to find a job, adding social media to your arsenal will increase your chances of landing an interview.

Accusations Fizzle Against Congressional Candidate David Bellavia

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

BellaviaAn accusation of misappropriation of charity funds against a veteran and Congressional candidate appears to be coming apart under scrutiny.

David Bellavia, an Iraq War combat veteran, Silver Star recipient, author and Congressional candidate has been caught up in a flap over a charity he helped co-found. Bellavia, currently running as a Republican for the 27th district of New York, co-founded the Warrior Legacy Foundation – a non-partisan organization that is “committed to the protection and promotion of the reputation and dignity of America’s warriors,” as well as Vets for Freedom, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping elect veterans to public office.

Bellavia is currently locked in a primary election battle against County Executive Chris Collins for the Republican nomination. The winner will run against Democratic incumbent Kathleen C. Hochul in the general election in November.

At issue: One Marian Gray wrote a letter to a local newspaper detailing an encounter with Bellavia, describing Bellavia’s relationship with his charity. The letter stated that Gray questioned Bellavia about his source of income since being discharged from the Army. The also letter asserted that Bellavia had “no visible means of support,” other than being supported by his charity operation, and that Bellavia was “evasive” when questioned about how he was supporting himself.

The letter concluded by accusing Bellavia of using his charity to support himself and to pay himself to run for Congress:

“Obviously after discharge, he has not held a “real” job. His “charity” as he calls it is for himself. Even if he did contribute to another’s campaign, this alleged foundation is basically for his own material gain. David Bellavia has neither legislative experience nor any apparent intellectual skills indicating he could represent anyone but himself. His vague and clearly inadequate responses and his own description of his life border on my definition of sleazy.”

Bellavia is the author of the critically-acclaimed House to House: An Epic Memoir of War, which was published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. House to House, an account of the vicious 2nd Battle of Fallujah of 2004 – the battle in which Bellavia was recommended for his Silver Star, was one of the most commercially successful memoirs of the War on Terror. Recently, Bellavia and his publisher signed a deal with an Oscar-winning Hollywood director to make a movie version of Bellavia’s book – which would seem to account for his recent ability to support himself and his family. Bellavia co-wrote and sold the screenplay.

As of this writing, Charitynavigator.org had no independent review of the operations of the Warrior Legacy Foundation or of Vets For Freedom.

However, the Vets for Freedom IRS Form 910 tax filing is a matter of public record, and Bellavia has released his tax returns from 2006 to 2011 for local journalists to inspect at a press conference on 30 April. Bellavia and stood by to answer questions from the press as they examined his tax returns. According to the Buffalo News, which reviewed the tax returns, the bulk of Bellavia’s income since his discharge from the Army has come from his authorship of House to House, though he has also received compensation at various times as an executive for Steuben Foods and from his work with running a Washington charity foundation.

Bellavia has received a number of milestone payments from his authorship over the last five years, including additional payments upon the release of the paperback edition, translation into additional languages, the sale of international rights, film rights and the sale of the screenplay itself.

Vets for Freedom has donated $1,000 to Congressional races in the 2012 cycle thus far – all to Josh Mandel, a Republican in Ohio, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (OpenSecrets.org). In the 2010 cycle, Vets for Freedom donated $500 to Sean Bielat, a Republican running in Massachusetts.

However, the Vets for Freedom 2009 tax filing (IRS Form 910) lists $75,000 in compensation to Bellavia, for an average of 40 hours per week of work. During that time, Bellavia declared that income on his 2008 individual tax return, according to a campaign source. Vets for Freedom’s tax filing also lists compensation to Pete Hegseth, the VFF president, of $100,000 that year – also for 40 hours per week of work. This was against revenue of $8.72 million that year.

As of March 31, the David Bellavia campaign had raised $31,970, had spent $33,019 and had $7,109 in cash on hand according to OpenSecrets.org. He had not taken any money from political action committees, or PACs; all but $305, which Bellavia had contributed himself, came from individual contributions.

In contrast, the incumbent Representative, Democrat Kathleen Hochul, had raised over $2 million, including $250,000 of her own money. 24 percent of her campaign contributions had come from political action committees.

OpenSecrets listed no data on Collins’ campaign opposing Bellavia’s in the primary election. As of this writing, the Collins campaign has not released any recent tax returns on the candidate.

 

Are you following this congressional race? What are your thoughts on the accusations against Bellavia? Do you think we need more candidates with military experience as their main resume item? Tell us in the comments!

Disabled Veteran petitions Supreme Court over benefits in divorce

Posted by Charlotte Webster

US Supreme CourtIn a petition filed with the Supreme Court earlier this month, a disabled veteran in Oregon is seeking a reversal of a lower court decision to count his VA disability benefits as communal property in his divorce.

At issue is whether states violate federal law when they allow divorce courts to include disability pay in calculating spousal support. 

In the divorce of Peter Barclay, an Air Force veteran, and his wife of nearly 20 years, an Oregon district court judge included considered the value of Barclay’s VA disability payments when awarding spousal pay of $1,000 per month. Barclay’s only income is from VA benefits and Social Security Disability Insurance, a tax-free amounnt of slightly more than $4,400 per month.

Barclay suffers from PTSD from his role as a first responder during the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. His PTSD made him unemployable and eligible to draw VA compensation at the 100% disabled rate.

Barclay and his attorney, Michael D.J. Eisenberg, have argued that Title 38 US Code, Section 5301(a), which makes VA disability benefits immune “from taxation, claims of creditors, attachment, levy and seizure” would also bar the inclusion of disability pay in spousal support calculations.

Eisenberg is arguing that disability pay is meant to compensate the veteran for loss of income due to a service-connected medical condition. If the veteran is married, VA compensation tables set payments higher. But that extra amount, given in recognition of the spouse’s sacrifice in living with a disabled individual, stops when the veteran gets a divorce. That should mean the spouse has no direct claim on the compensation anymore. Eisenberg stated, “It’s not like the veteran’s disability caused the spouse a military-related disability.” 

Barclay’s former spouse claims she has diabilities of her own, but Barclay and Eisenberg argue that she should receive help from state or federal programs, including Social Security Disability Insurance, rather than from VA disabiliyt benefits.

Oregon and most other states disagree, based on a 1987 Supreme Court decision which said the legislative history of the VA disability benefits shows that payments are meant to compensate both the veteran and his/her family. Further, the 1982 Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) allows courts to distribute “disposable” military retired pay as marital property or as alimony or child support. 

Barclay’s petition notes that the USFSPA excludes disability compensation from the definition of “net disposable income.” The petition also references a 1989 Supreme Court decision in favor of a retiree who sought to reduce his spousal support when he won a disability award from the VA. When the retiree began drawing VA benefits, it lowered his military retirement being shared with the former spouse. Barclay is a veteran but not a retiree, but still claims the protections of disability pay should extend to all veterans.

Barclay’s petition also points to three states which offer protections similar to the federal law. In Arizona, a recently passed law shields veterans’ disability benefits from alimony calculations. Texas and Vermont have laws whcih proclude VA disability benefits from being included in the division of property or in alimony calculations.

Eisenberg argues that it is time the Supreme Court addresses the states’ various interpretations and clarifies the law in favor of Barclay and other disabled veterans. 

At least four justices will have to agree to review the case. We will follow the petition and report back if the Court decides to hear arguments.

 

Which side of the argument do you agree with? Should disability compensation be solely for the veteran affected or for the spouse/family who also lived with the consequences of the disability? Let us know in the comments.

House Passes Defense Authorization Bill

Posted by Charlotte Webster

The House recently passed its version of the Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 4310). The cost of the approved provisions exceeds spending limits set by law, which has prompted the Obama Administration to threaten a veto of the measure.

The House version of the bill denies the drastic TRICARE fee increases requested by the Administration, which is good news for many military retirees. However, the bill does authorize higher pharmacy co-pays, but at levels below hikes requested by DoD and with provisions to limit future pharmacy co-pays to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). (DoD has the authority to increase co-pays without congressional approval.)

In addition to the provisions passed by the House Armed Services Committee, the House-approved version also includes language that prohibits the establishment of a commission that would propose changes to the military retirement benefit.

The fight to limit TRICARE and pharmacy costs and protect military retirement benefits then moved to the Senate, where the Senate Armed Services Committee and its subcommittees are expected to mark up their version of the bill next week.

Once both chambers pass their respective versions of the bill, a conference committee will be appointed to resolve differences. The final bill (conference report) must be approved by both chambers before it is sent to the President for his signature or veto.

New TRICARE legislation introduced in Senate

Posted by Charlotte Webster

Senators Marco Rubio (FL) and Frank Lautenberg (NJ) have introduced legislation that seeks to protect TRICARE beneficiaries from excessive and unfair enrollment fee increases and large hikes in pharmacy co-pays. The Military Health Care Protection Act of 2012 (S. 3203) emphasizes that military service is not like civilian occupations and the associated health care benefits are earned through 20 or more years of sacrifice and service to one’s country.

Senator Lautenberg’s efforts have been ongoing since 2007, when he introduced similar legislation and amendmends to control TRICARE fee increases. Other previous efforts supporting military financial issues include introducing language in bills that would have limited increases to no more than the Consumer Price Index, which is the basis for Social Security and VA benefits, and the COLA for military retired pay.

Congress Ensures Paid Time Off Returned to Guard Troops

Posted by Charlotte Webster

Through rare unanimous votes in both the House and Senate, a bill was passed this week to return paid-time-off to the Minnesota National Guard and other troops nationwide. President Obama is expected to sign the measure into law next week.

As issue were new restrictions created last October that limited paid-time-off. More than 2,000 members of the Minnesota National Guard, including the famed “Red Bulls”, and more than 49,000 other troops across the country were deployed with the promise of receiving the benefits to spend time with their families and find work at the end of their deployments, which ended last month for many.

US Rep. John Kline, (R-Minn), a retired Marine colonel took up the Guard’s cause. “Promises made should be promises kept, and it is unconscionable for the Pentagon to have changed rules while Minnesota’s famed Red Bulls were defending freedom overseas,” Kline stated.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta supported the exemption, although Pentagon officials requested congressional action to protect all of the affected troops.

Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP)

Posted by Charlotte Webster

The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) begins July 1, 2012, but applications are being accepted now. 

What is VRAP?

It’s a program for qualified veterans who enter a 1-year vocational program in certain high-demand occupations, designed to help combat the devastatingly high unemployment rate among veterans. The benefit will provide up to $1,473/month, an amount equal to the full-time education benefit for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Who is eligible?

To qualify, a veteran needs to be between 30 and 60 years old. Veterans must also be unemployed, have received an other-than-dishonorable discharge, and cannot be enrolled in any other federal or state job assistance program.

Veterans must also not be receiving VA compensation due to unemployability and cannot be qualified for other VA education benefits (or have already exhausted them). 

To receive the VRAP benefit, veterans must agree to enroll in a program that will lead to a job in one of 210 high-demand occupations as specified by the Department of Labor.

How to apply

Veterans can apply now, but need to do so quickly. The program is limited to 45,000 participants July 1-Septemter 30, 2012, and to 54,000 participants October 1, 2012-March 31, 2014.

To apply, veterans must provide the VA with their bank account number and routing number as the benefits are deposited directly to the participant and not to the school. Vets will be responsible for paying tuition, fees, supplies and books to the school.

For more information on VRAP, high demand occupations, and how to apply, veterans may go to the website at www.benefits.va.gov/VOW, or call VA’s Call Centers toll free at 1-800-827-1000.

Veterans may also access the VRAP application online at https://www.ebenefits.va.gov through eBenefits, a joint project between the Department of Defense and VA.

Veteran Unemployment: A Stubborn Problem Persists

Posted by Charlotte Webster

A recent survey by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics had some discouraging findings for military members and veterans: The unemployment rate for those of us who served on active duty at any time since September 2001 was 12.1 percent, compared to the 8.3 percent unemployment rate among all veterans – a figure that roughly paralleled the 2011 unemployment rate as a whole. (As of May 4, 2011, the BLS had just reported a U3 unemployment rate of 8.1 percent – down from 8.3 percent, largely due to hundreds of thousands of workers giving up the job hunt.)

Among young male veterans – those War on Terror era veterans below age 25 – the unemployment rate was devastating: 29.1 percent of them, nearly three in every ten job seekers, were unemployed. This rate is substantially higher than the general rate of unemployment among non-veterans of the same age. These are largely Reservists and National Guardsmen who have been mobilized at least once, as those who enlisted into the active duty components on six-year hitches will still be employed, unless sooner discharged.

A Growing Public Perception Problem

In addition to the employment statistics, we do have some anecdotal evidence that negative stereotypes about combat veterans are becoming more pervasive among the general public. For example, popular TV talk show host and psychology professional Dr. Phil recently aired a show called “From Heroes to Monsters,” in which he referred to veterans struggling with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as “damaged goods” who destroyed marriages and families. (Dr. Phil has since issued an apology and changed the name of the episode to “Heroes in Pain.”)

Additionally, a Democratic state legislator from Louisiana, Representative Stephen Ortego (District 39), expressed reluctance regarding a proposal to extend in-state tuition rates to nonresident armed forces veterans on the State House Floor last week, asking “why do we want to attract veterans?… They have a lot of issues.”

Labor Force Participation Rate

The labor force participation rate – the percentage of people who are actually either working or actively looking for work – is 83.5 percent among post-9/11 era veterans. In contrast, the labor force participation rate nationwide, among all residents, was 63.6 percent, as of May 4th, 2012 – a 30 year low. It was 64 percent as of the end of 2011. So veterans are more active in the job hunt than their non-veteran counterparts, by far.

So what are vetarans trying to make the transition to civilian employment to do with so many statistics stacked against them? There are a few options for finding a new job, and if all else fails, using your military education benefits and going back to school to brush up on skills or get a graduate degree will help your resume stand out from the crowd.

First, turn to your network of friends and colleagues to see if they know of companies who are hiring. The old adage “It’s not what you know but who you know,” really is true. Next, figure out how your military skills might transfer into a civil service job. When you land an interview, be sure to “wow” your potential new employer, send a thank you, and follow-up about the position to stay top-of-mind. Above all, try to maintain a positive attitude, no matter how discouraged you might really feel. Positivity is much more likely to gain help from your friends and impress employers than a negative outlook.

If you’re a veteran who has recently found work, what advice do you have for other vets? Tell us what worked for you in the comments section below.

Scam Alert: “DFAS” Phishing Email

Posted by Charlotte Webster

Military people are generally honest, straightforward people. We expect our words to be taken at face value, and we tend to project the same trustworthiness on other people. And unfortunately, we have too often fallen for a number of scams and shady practices.

One of the most common scams in the internet age is phishing: This is the practice of sending emails or other communications designed to dupe the victim into either sending money to the crooks, or into sending them confidential personal information. The crooks then use that information to open up fraudulent credit accounts in your name, or even raid your bank accounts and retirement accounts directly – leaving you with an empty shell.

Recent Scam Targeted DFAS Customers

For example – late in 2011, a number of military families reported receiving an email communication with the subject line, “Fwd: Payment Approval.” The email contained a Department of Defense seal (anyone can cut and paste a seal into their email), as well as something that appeared to be a case number from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

If you took a closer look at the email, though, you would discover that the return address didn’t go to a “*.mil” domain at all. Instead, the return email went to dfas@yahoo.ca.

Some variations of Phishing will redirect the victim to a convincing mockup of a genuine legitimate website. Some of the fakes are quite elaborate. The victim may know not to send sensitive personal information directly via email. But clicking on an emailed link may provide the victim with a false sense of security. The victim then enters the sensitive information directly onto the Web page.

Another version advises the service member to open an attached file. However, the file is really a virus that attacks the computer and allows the virus’s creator to access stored passwords and other sensitive information stored on the computer’s hard drive.
If the computer is on a network, other computers on the network could be targeted as well. In extreme cases, this could mean a major network security breach.

This is a screaming red flag, say DFAS officials. Indeed, DFAS recently reaffirmed its strict email policy:

  • DFAS will never send you an unsolicited email requesting your password, account numbers, or any other potentially sensitive information.
  • DFAS will never call you asking for that information, or simply to ‘update our records,” or “validate our database.” 
  • DFAS will not send you an email attachment you have not specifically asked for.

This policy was specifically adopted by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. However, the vast majority of reputable, legitimate financial institutions will have similar policies in place. Never respond to an unsolicited email, text or cell phone communication by providing sensitive information.

If You Get Phished

If you do receive a phishing email, take the following actions:

  • Report the email to the agency or company getting spoofed
  • Forward the email to spam@uce.org.
  • Send the email to reportphishing@antiphishing.org.

If you think you fell for the scam, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint.

If the compromise involves a military computer, notify your unit leadership, S-6 or DOIMS (Department of Information Management Services) office immediately.

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